It’s a new year (and cuffing season), so you’ve made a resolution to get out and start dating again. You’ve re-enabled your Ok Stupid profile, and decided that Tinder isn’t so bad after all. But wait, it’s February, it’s miserable out, and you’re skint. Don’t let that stop you, a lack of funds should fuel you with an injection of creativity. Go forth, and embrace the challenge of your limited budget. Not convinced? Read on my friend, I’m a freelance writer, so I’m no stranger to being skint, or indeed single.
However, I’m firmly of the belief that a truly great date can’t be planned, and consists mainly of two connected things: 1) great company and 2) chemistry—and this is coming from someone who made a short film about a very meticulously planned date. One of the most fun first dates I ever had was at free gig, in a library in the centre of London. We watched bands, perused books from around the world, and danced to Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman at the end of the night. It was odd, but unexpected and fun.
But most dates aren’t as meet-cute as an episode of Master of None or 500 Days Of Summer. There are the miss-matches, the stilted conversations, awkward moments, and the bad pub choices. It can brutal, but it can also be fun, if you don’t try too hard. Whether you’re a planner, or prefer to wander freely, I have suggestions to suit this frugal season.
Here is a my guide to having fun, low-pressure dates on a shoestring:
Free and Easy
Walking Through The City
Unless it’s pouring with rain, even if it’s cold outside, you can wrap up and go for wander. Grab a mulled wine or a takeaway cuppa and stroll along the Southbank. It’s just a great hangout, all year round, and brilliant for people watching. It is flanked by landmarks, and you can hang out at the BFI, Concrete at The Hayward, The National Theatre or The Southbank Centre, if you’re feel feeling culturally curious. Other top spots for strolling in good company are Ally Pally, Hampstead Heath and Regent’s Canal.
Hang Out With A Dog Owner
If your date is a dog owner, you’re probably already winning. This way you get company, a walk and potential regular access to a dog, minus the burden of dealing with poop-scooping on the regular.
Museums and Galleries
One friend (who met her husband online) approached online dating as a way to tick off all the things she wanted to do and see around London. I think it’s a great attitude, especially with galleries like the V&A, Tate Britain and Royal Academy of Arts doing late sessions with interesting themes. If nothing else, it will at least provide talking points if you’re in need of them.
If you’re already a regular at London’s museum and gallery, then you might consider a London Museum membership. Cheapo pro-tip: As well as single membership, most of the main galleries and museums have a handy “plus guest” membership, so if you’re out more than three dates per year, you’ll easily make your money back on free access to the special exhibitions.
Events & Activities
So, you’re two or three dates in and you’re looking for interesting stuff to see, here are a few places of note.
Passing Clouds, Dalston
Update: Passing Clouds was a colourful arts space, befitting its postcode, but is alas no more.
There is usually an array of interesting classes and workshops on offer. But if Afro Tango and Dream Workshops are a little intense, there are usually interesting free or cheap film events and club nights on weekends.
The Lexington, Islington
The Rough Trade Shops music quiz is possibly the only reason to go out and socialise on a Monday night, and there are decent gigs on upstairs on most nights too.
The Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley
This is my absolute favourite cinema, and it’s impossible not to love this Art Deco picture palace, which always has a decent events programme. Past Q&A guests have included Dustin Hoffman and Oscar Isaac, and for £2 you can go on a tour and nerd out in the projection room.
The Cinema Museum, Kennington
Billed as one of London’s best kept secrets, it’s really worth seeking out, and is a must for cinema lovers. Pre-book a tour, or check out their events page for screening, performances and talks.
The Moth Club, Hackney
Yes, it’s a working men’s club-cum-hipster venue, but it’s got a sparkly gold ceiling, and there is always some interesting music/club night/comedy, and usually for under £10.
The Book Club, Old Street
Bar and creative events space including, if you’re bold enough, Guerilla Science presents….Lust, Sex and Brains, a multisensory exploration of human attraction. If that’s a little rich for your blood, there are short film, spoken word, drawing and visual arts events that won’t sting the wallet.
Share A Slice With Someone Nice…
Of cake, that is. If like me, you work from home, it’s a good idea to get out at speak to other humans once in awhile,and cafes have a different feel on a weekday. So, you’ve been sitting, tapping at your laptop for hours, nursing that latte and feeling the glare of the staff as you enjoy their WiFi, and you notice another regular is doing the same. Unless you’re both rushing to hit a deadline, take a break, say hi. If they’re receptive, hang around and split a cake, the ultimate no-risk date.
Daylight Music, The Union Chapel
One of London’s most beautiful venues host Saturday afternoon gigs throughout the year, including shows by Nils Frahm and Laetitia Sadier. The shows are free, but donations of £5 are welcomed.
Date spots & cosy hideaways
Scooter Cafe, Lower Marsh
Lower Marsh is a gem in Waterloo’s crown, walk all the way down to the end and you’ll get to the Scooter Cafe. London has precious few nighttime cafes, and SC is small and bohemian with low lighting and a basement that feels like an old-time theatre bar filled with eccentrics and raconteurs (but friendly rather than pretentious).
Ape & Bird, Shaftesbury Avenue
Update: The Ape & Bird has closed it’s doors permanently..
A rare decent spot in the midst of a tourist trap, Ape & Bird is basically three places under one glorious roof. Downstairs is the main bar, serving up mini pizzas and indulging in £5 spritz hour. Upstairs, the restaurant Polpo is in residence with its excellent Venetian sharing plates, and the basement dive bar is a ‘speakeasy’ type bar, in the vein of the much missed Black Gardenia in Soho.
The Hideaway, Tufnell Park
Update: The Hideaway is no longer. The “Northern Soul Bar & Kitchen” now stands at the bar’s former location.
As the name suggests, it’s a hideaway. A teeny neighbourhood bar, that does great pizzas and cocktails, with an interesting bunch of locals who like to drink and dance. The basement venue has comedy, music gigs and swing dance classes too.
The Bull, Highgate
Brew pub, The Bull is great for a Sunday afternoon date. Wander through Highgate Village and into this snug pub for craft ales brewed in the building, and an amazing food menu to boot.
Fink’s Salt & Sweet, Arsenal
Tucked back from the noise of Blackstock Road between Finsbury Park and Highbury, is the hidden gem, Fink’s Salt & Sweet. Open from breakfast until dinner, it’s the best place for avocado on toast I’ve been to. It has minimal design, amazing food, friendly staff and it’s open late until 23:00 Thursdays-Saturdays for wine and cheese lovers.